The perils of paying for polls that you don’t report

I’ve been running a little series of posts about poll questions that newspapers have paid for but not reported (see here, here and here).

A degree of that is inevitable – after all, it’s fair enough to ask a range of questions to see which give a newsworthy answer as opposed to stating the obvious and then only report those (as long as the full data is available).

However, what frequently happens is that answers which don’t get reported both look newsworthy and run counter to the paper’s editorial line. There’s an obvious inference to draw in such cases…

My latest one has caught a bit of media attention this time as you can see from the New Statesman and The Guardian, who report:

The Sun’s failure to run the results is likely to be seized upon by critics of the paper who have accused it of not publishing the details of polls that are unfavourable to the Conservatives. The Sun announced it was backing the Tories, after 12 years of support for Labour, in September last year. Last week the Lib Dems accused the paper of suppressing the results of a YouGov poll that showed that if people thought Nick Clegg’s party had a significant chance of winning the election, it would win 49% of the votes, with the Tories winning 25% and Labour just 19%.

The Sun also decided not to publish the details of another poll taken yesterday that was favourable to the Lib Dems. It showed that 29% of people thought the Lib Dems were being the most honest about spending cuts, compared to 26% who named the Conservatives and 21% who plumped for Labour.

The Sun’s decision not to run the “bigot-gate” poll was highlighted by Mark Pack, co-editor of the Liberal Democrat Voice website. He noted the results had appeared on the YouGov website – in compliance with the rules of the British Polling Council. There is no question YouGov had done anything wrong. Pack added: “The Sun do commission more opinion polls than you would expect them to publish … but it’s very striking when you have the Sun running a story and they have put forward a polling question that gives a very different slant [in its results].”

The Sun had not responded to the Guardian’s request for a comment by the time of publication.

As I said to the paper, YouGov are following the industry rules fully and placing the full information on their website. It’s a credit to the British polling industry that, for those firms who take part in the British Polling Council (BPC), we have rules which enforce such transparency and so allow such stories to be unearthed. All is not perfect in the polling industry but in this respect the members of the BPC deserve credit.

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